by Kennedy Graham
What is the Rio+20 Earth Summit saying about climate change?
Our world leaders, minus New Zealand’s John Key, are about to pass the torch.
In the draft declaration, our world leaders will acknowledge that climate change is a ‘cross-cutting and persistent crisis’.
They will express their concern that ‘the scale and gravity of the negative impacts of climate change affect all countries’.
Countries, they will conclude, should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations. Climate change is ‘one of the greatest challenges of our time’.
Based on these twenty-year-old insights, they will then say the following.
1. We express profound alarm that GHG emissions continue to rise globally.
2. Climate change requires urgent action and the widest possible cooperation of all countries, in accordance with common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.
3. A ‘significant gap’ in mitigation efforts remains to be closed in order to hold the increase in global mean temperature to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
4. We welcome the outcomes from Durban (COP-16) and will intensify our efforts.
5. We emphasize that adaptation is an immediate and urgent global priority.
6. Leaders will recognise the importance of mobilising predictable funding to support nationally-appropriate mitigation actions and adaptation measures, technology transfer and capacity-building in developing countries.
7. We highlight the need to better understand and address cross-cutting issues including those among water, energy, food, health, biodiversity and climate change.
Twenty years after their predecessors called for the stabilization of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that will avoid dangerous anthropogenic climate change, this is the best our world leaders are able to do.
What is the advice our world leaders have received? The UN Environment Programme has just released a report. It says the following:
“As human pressures on the earth … accelerate, several critical global, regional and local thresholds are close or have been exceeded. … Once these have been passed, abrupt and possibly irreversible changes to the life-support functions of the planet are likely to occur, with significant adverse implications for human wellbeing.”
UNEP’s Director-General, Achim Steiner, warns us all about the irrevocable nature of tipping-points. As he puts is:
“Once the tipping-point occurs, you don’t wake up the next morning and say: ‘This is terrible, can we change it?’ That is the whole essence of these thresholds. We are condemning people to not having the choice any more”.
The IPCC scientists now warn that the 2°C threshold is unlikely to be attained, and that the temperature rise is likely to be 3°C to 4°C. If business-as-usual continues, it is likely to be 6°C.
In a previous report, UNEP pointed out that the ‘emissions gap’ between what is required for the 2°C threshold and what is currently pledged is 50%. Global emissions, currently at 48 Gt., are projected to rise to 56 Gt. by 2020. They need to fall to 44 Gt. Current pledges will take them down to 50 Gt.
The advice before world leaders is thus that humanity faces the greatest crisis in its history. You do not have to be a doomsayer to conclude that life will be extremely unpleasant for humans within 20 to 40 years if we continue our present course which we show every sign of wishing to do, or being incapable of changing.
But all our world leaders are doing at Rio+20 is expressing profound alarm and resolving to intensify effort.
The failure of Copenhagen, three years ago, resulted in the political accord for voluntary pledges that has landed us in this mess. At Durban last year we resolved to complete negotiations for a comprehensive legal agreement on global emission reductions that will come into force in 2020.
That is three years after the scientific community advances global emissions need to peak. It is likely that they will peak around 2030.
That will be too late.